Newspaper industry fails in final attempt to thwart royal charter on press regulation


Bryony Clarke reports on today’s High Court ruling regarding the new press regulatory regime.

Newspaper and magazine publishers have today lost a last minute appeal to the High Court to halt the implementation of a new press regulatory regime, as they were refused an injunction to stop the Queen’s approval for a new cross-party royal charter on press reform.

The Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof), representing the publishers, had been granted an emergency High Court hearing for an injunction at 10.30am on Wednesday, just hours before the government’s press regulation royal charter was presented to the Privy Council for sealing by the Queen at 5.30pm on Wednesday afternoon.

The proposed new system of regulation, supported by the three main political parties and Hacked Off campaigners, will be underpinned by statute law, compelling newspapers to submit to the new regime. Publications that refuse to participate will be faced with “exemplary” damages in the event of libel cases.

Publications that refuse to participate will be faced with “exemplary” damages in the event of libel cases.

These plans have been bitterly opposed by much of the newspaper industry and in April this year a collection of the country’s largest press groups, comprising of the Telegraph Media Group, News International, the Newspaper Society and Associated Newspapers, proposed an alternative system of regulation independent of the state.

The Newspaper Society said that the scheme drawn up by the newspaper industry was “a workable, practical way swiftly to deliver the Leveson recommendations, which the industry accepts, without any form of state-sponsored regulation that would endanger freedom of speech”.

However the industry’s proposed regulatory regime was rejected by a committee of the Privy Council on October 8 on the grounds that it was not compliant with the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson following his long inquiry into newspaper practices. That decision was today upheld by two High Court judges who ruled there was no ‘arguable case’ to challenge it.

Applications for the injunction and judicial review were filed at the high court in London on Monday. The case mounted by PressBof claimed that the industry’s rival royal charter had been unlawfully rejected by the Privy Council after being subjected to a ‘Kafkaesque’ consideration process.

QC Richard Gordon, representing the publishers, described the process as ‘wholly legally defective’.  He further argued: “This was in all but name an executive roller coasting through of a [government] charter. If government policy is to ensure confidence of public and press you cannot simply ignore the views of the press or fair consideration of those views”.

QC Richard Gordon, representing the publishers, described the process as ‘wholly legally defective’.

At today’s High Court hearing, publishers had sought to avert the sealing of the government’s royal charter, until a decision has been taken on their application for a judicial review of the government’s rejection of their own rival charter.

However Lord Justice Richards, presiding over today’s High Court hearing with Mr Justice Sales, dismissed PressBof’s application to seek a judicial review. Ruling that the balance came down firmly against granting an interim injunction, he said there was a strong public interest in allowing the Privy Council to proceed to consider the Government’s proposed charter for which there was cross-party support and which had been endorsed by Parliament.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said the court’s ruling cleared the way for the enactment of the cross-party royal charter.

“Both the industry and the Government agree self-regulation of the press is the way forward and we both agree that a royal charter is the best framework for that,” the spokesman commented.

“We are clear the process for considering the industry royal charter was robust and fair and the courts have agreed. We can now get on with implementing the cross-party charter.

PressBof now intend to take its case to the Court of Appeal and the bitter dispute between the newspaper industry and the government over press regulation continues.

Bryony is a recent literature graduate and news junkie who has previously written for the Cambridge Student, the New Political Centre and the Independent.


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